Prepare for Your Implementation

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify your organization’s goals, pain points, and success metrics.
  • Map your business processes to Salesforce solutions.
  • Establish implementation project staffing, timing, and budget requirements.

Just like you might want blueprints to guide construction of a house, you’ll want to have a thoughtfully designed plan for moving to Salesforce. Let’s create your implementation blueprint together. With the help of some worksheets and examples, we’ll think through key elements like your goals, organizational processes, project team, and timing. This work is your foundation for a successful implementation. So grab a pencil (or more likely a laptop) and let’s get started!

Define the Why

One of the most important steps you can take before you start with Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) is to make sure your organization understands exactly WHY you are going to implement Salesforce. To be honest, if the answer starts with "we get 10 free licenses,” you may be in for a bumpy ride.

What were your goals as you evaluated CRM systems? Those goals become your high-level requirements. Get the Identify Your Salesforce Implementation Vision and Objectives worksheet from the Resources section at the end of this unit and work with your stakeholders to answer questions like:

  • What are your organization’s goals over the next six months? Year?
  • What are your big opportunities?
  • What pain points prevent you from growing? What processes do you want to improve?
  • How do your constituents experience your programs and services now? How would you like this to change?

You might remember our fictional nonprofit organization, No More Homelessness (NMH), from another module. NMH is a nonprofit social service organization with support programs for the homeless. Gorav Patel is the sole NMH Salesforce admin and a member of the larger NMH tech and operations team. Gorav is working with a consulting partner to implement NPSP for 46 users with a focus on fundraising and program management.

After consulting with key stakeholders and their partner, Gorav drafted a Salesforce implementation vision for NMH.

After NMH has successfully implemented Salesforce, we’ll be able to: 

  • Get real-time, accurate information about a client and collaborate with everyone involved in supporting that client.
  • Deepen engagement with our major donors and volunteers by delivering personalized experiences.
  • Work more efficiently to enable our staff to focus on our programs and not reporting and administration.

Note that groups within your organization are likely to answer these big picture questions differently. Gorav made sure to gather input from a cross-section of his stakeholders on the development and programs teams, each of whom has different areas of concern. He brought together leaders from all these key groups to align on NMH’s overall organizational priorities and then shared those priorities with his executive director. The executive director agreed to serve as a champion of the project, including communicating the value of implementation to the entire staff. 

Sketch Out Your Current Systems and Processes

After aligning around your implementation vision, it’s time to turn your focus to the details. How does your organization currently manage your data? What activities and processes do your existing systems and applications support?

Start with a high-level sketch

Architects who draw up blueprints often start by asking clients to visualize their current home’s layout and use of space. Similarly, you might sketch out a bubble diagram for your organization to represent your major activities, process flows, and their relationships. Gorav’s sketch for NMH looks something like this:

Bubble diagram of typical nonprofit activities, including fundraising, planning, events, and communications

Gorav created big circles for the primary activities, smaller circles for the secondary activities, and arranged them relative to how each activity relates or is connected within the context of the organization. 

Fill in some details

Next, go a level deeper and sketch out the specifics of each area. Take fundraising, for example. What’s your current process for tracking donations?

A flowchart diagram is a great way to visualize the interactions and artifacts (forms, emails, reports, and so on) that are involved. It’s also a good way to identify pain points and hot spots that automation could solve.

For example, a flowchart for tracking a donation renewal might look something like this:

Flowchart diagram of donation renewal process

We know it takes significant time and effort to document your processes accurately. We encourage you to invest in this work up front because it’s critical for the rest of your CRM implementation.

Map Your Data to Salesforce Objects

Remember all that talk about objects and the data model we covered in the previous unit? Here’s where working through that stuff really pays off. It’s time to compare your data needs with what you get out of the box with NPSP, and determine where you need custom fields or objects.

Gorav, our admin from NMH, uses a spreadsheet to list existing data fields and find a spot for them in Salesforce.

A spreadsheet with a sample mapping of a nonprofit’s data to Salesforce objects and fields

Identify Stakeholders to Create Your Project Team

To an organization with limited resources, the term “project team” may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to take a huge team to implement NPSP. That being said, adoption is a crucial part of any Salesforce implementation. If key members of the organization aren’t on board, it’s much harder to realize success.

Decide who you want to cover these key roles (the same person can cover more than one role).

Role Responsibilities
Executive sponsor
Drive adoption, allocate budget, and champion the project.
Project owner
Steer the project overall. Get the application up and running. Understand how to map business processes to NPSP.
System administrator
Manage the application day-to-day. Help the organization use new functionality. Support training and adoption.
Power users
Test and provide feedback during implementation. Provide on-the-spot support and troubleshooting to end users.
End users
Agree to learn a new way of working.
Experts (outside consultants, in-house specialists, or board members)
Serve as knowledge guides. Help implement more advanced features.

At NMH, Gorav serves as the project owner and admin. He teamed up with his director of development and director of programs to get his Executive Director on board as their executive sponsor and to identify power users from their respective teams.

Define What Success Looks Like and Get Everyone on Board

User adoption is a key indicator of a successful CRM implementation. Sound familiar? We can’t emphasize it enough! “Adoption” means your stakeholders are actually using NPSP. They log in regularly. They’re confident about the quality of the data and are motivated to help maintain that quality. Aspects of their work are easier, faster, and more satisfying. The pain points you identified in your initial conversations are no longer so painful.

Get the Define Success Metrics for Your Salesforce Implementation worksheet from the Resources section at the end of this unit and work with your stakeholders to identify the most meaningful metrics for adoption.

At NMH, these metrics align around user adoption, and fundraising and program impact.

You don’t want the introduction of NPSP to come as a surprise to anyone. Think through your user engagement strategy and consider how to:

  • Start building enthusiasm now and keep your users updated
  • Help your executive sponsor come up with talking points, as communications from this level tend to have the most impact
  • Get people on board by making it easy for them to get involved
  • Ask for stakeholder feedback, act on it, and acknowledge it when you report back on your project’s success
  • Plan for some early “wins.” When people experience the value of NPSP firsthand, they’re far more likely to use it

Set the Right Expectations

One of the most significant challenges for nonprofits starting out with Salesforce is fully understanding what they’re getting into. Unrealistic expectations can be detrimental to an organization's chances of success with the adoption of any new system.

Be realistic about the implementation timeline

There’s a ton of planning and preparation that goes into an implementation. Set a realistic timeline that factors in all the steps you need to be successful.

Budget enough time for data cleanup and migration

How much square footage, so to speak, does your current system cover? If you have thousands of donor records, think in weeks, not days. Seriously. Starting with quality data is critical. If your users don’t have confidence in the data, adoption suffers.

Budget for employee time

Don’t ask employees to design, do user testing, or start working in a new system during major events or your organization’s busy times.

Consider a phased approach

You can roll-out by department and adopt the most critical features first—and then add more functionality later. A sample three-phase implementation plan might look like this:

Sample implementation plan with three phases distributed over nine months

Set Yourself up for Long-Term Success

Finally, remember that this is just the beginning. As your organization continues to grow and your processes evolve over time, you want to be right there, ready and capable of adding to your existing setup. So regardless of the path you choose to implement, set yourself up for success by planning to invest in two key areas: training and documentation.

Invest in training for admins

Having an internal Salesforce expert on staff has been shown to be a major success factor for organizations using Salesforce. Whether that person is a staffer who is wearing multiple hats, or a dedicated, experienced specialist, training is a crucial investment for your organization to make. In order to support that investment, Salesforce provides nonprofits a 50% discount on in-class learning and certification. Check out the Resources section to learn more.

There's also no substitute to learning by doing! In fact it's crucial to allow enough time and space for you and other power users to move up the learning curve. It's not exactly that the learning curve is too steep—it's more that there are so many areas to master and the technology moves fast enough that most people end up in a near-continuous learning cycle. This is a good thing, but it does require allowing adequate time for you to focus on training and ongoing learning.

Don’t underestimate the importance of documentation

Good documentation is critical to driving internal adoption and preserving institutional knowledge. Many internal admins find themselves answering the same questions over and over about common usage of the system, so taking a bit of extra time to create documentation to help users be more self-sufficient can end up saving countless hours down the road and free you up for more satisfying work. 

It's also all too common to see organizations losing momentum when their in-house expert unexpectedly leaves and there is neither anyone else internally with enough knowledge of the systems, nor adequate documentation to help someone else learn it. 

Rather than attempting to do all your documentation at once, build step by step. Create your documentation one piece at a time whenever something arises in your day-to-day work. Gorav, our admin at NMH, keeps a running document and when he finds himself explaining how to do something, he adds it to the documentation. When he asks his consulting partner a technical question, he adds their answer to the documentation. When he created an onboarding process for a new hire, he added it to the documentation. And so on. Spending an extra 2 minutes here and there can save the organization weeks or months of lost time and productivity down the road.

Consider Your Options

Whew. That feels like a lot. And it is… you are implementing technology that could transform your organization. It isn’t going to be quick and easy, but all of this hard work will pay off. And as you can probably tell, you already have a lot of decisions to make! One of the decisions you will need to make with Salesforce is whether to use standard features and functionality, use internal resources to build custom apps, or use a partner to do the work for you. We’ll dig into these options in the next unit.


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What’s in it for you?
  • 1 in 4 land a new job
  • 50% receive a promotion or raise
  • 80% learn new technologies that boost their resume
  • 66% say it increases productivity
Source: Trailblazer Community Impact Survey 2019